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Shellac

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Shellac frontman and all-around sensitive guy Steve Albini is the kind of wordsmith who thinks Rapeman is a pretty funny band name, the kind of producer who flattens the levels and pushes Record, the kind of singer who makes David Byrne sound like an opera star, and the kind of guitarist who could definitely use a few lessons. So what makes his records so arresting? For my money, it’s gotta be the frayed-nerves anger that powers nearly every song and, perhaps more important, Albini’s total commitment to sonic confusion. On Shellac records, tempos change abruptly, lead lines peter out, and the bass throbs frenetically, even as the obviously overworked drummer (Todd Trainer) tries to keep track of it all by bashing out a flat-as-a-board, Bonham-heavy rock beat. The aptly titled 1000 Hurts comes with all that and lavish, record-collectah-style packaging to boot. Like all Albini products, Shellac’s new disc is dry and abrasive and devoid of even one thing that could be called “pleasurable” in any conventional sense—which is, of course, a huge part of its statement-making musical appeal. Lyrically, though, it’s less appealing; Albini’s women troubles are starting to sound tired; check the ultraviolent “Prayer to God” and the cranky “Canaveral” for predictably bitter details. Much better are the Gang of Four-Mission of Burma hybrid “QRJ” and the album closer, “Watch Song.” The former track laces a three-note guitar riff through some of Shellac’s finest heavy rumbling; the latter finds Albini doing what he does best, picking a fight: “Hey man, I wanna have a fight with you.” But, at the album’s end, Albini is just stating what was obvious from the beginning: 1000 Hurts comes out of the corner swingin’. —Shannon Zimmerman